Staunton, Christmas 2016 – Stripped of all its trappings, Christmas is about the triumph of love over the challenges of the human condition be they those of original Holy Family, the lives chronicled in New York’s “Hundred Neediest Cases” or the struggles in Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.”
But this year, there is another person on this list, a Russian woman who was forced to turn to prostitution in order to make enough money to allow her to lead the choir at her Orthodox church while taking care of her daughter and her mother. And like all great Christmas stories, hers has ended happily, yet another reason for seeing the holiday as a sign of perpetual hope.
Nina’s story is chronicled by Yevgeniiya Volunkova of the Takiedela portal (takiedela.ru/2016/12/slishkom-melko-dlya-boga/). The journalist notes that Nina has worked for more than 20 years in the church but didn’t earn enough money from that profession and so turned to prostitution.
According to Volunkova, Nina “doesn’t consider her second profession a sin becaue it is what has allowed her to remain in the church.”
She was born in Siberia and grew up in a religious family and fell in love with church music. At the age of 15, Nina and her sister moved to central Russia and entred a music training school to perfect her skills. And everthing seemed to be working out for her until she became the victim of rape.
After that, at the age of 20, she met a man and became pregnant, eventually giving birth to a daughter. Not only did that add to her burdens – she said her live became a real “hell” – but her parents cut her off. She worked at three jobs, singing in the theater, singing in church, and working as a cleaning woman.
Now 45, she has been in the church more than 20 years, about the same period she has been working as a prostitute, Volunkova says. About Nina’s “second profession,” the journalist continues: “no one knows, neither her colleagues nor her friends,” and she plans to keep it that way using as a pseudonym, the Greek name Thais.
She does not like her clients or her second profession, she says. She lives only for her daughter and her life in the church. There she is respected and apparently even loved by her fellow parishioners none of whom suspect her second life. Nina “believes in God” but not in all the rules in the Bible. Instead, she says, when she prays, she “talks with God one on one.”
She has not decided whether prostitution is a sin and in fact leans to the view that it isn’t. “Yes,” she acknowledges, “my work is not entirely corret from the point of view of morality, but I do not receive any satisfaction from it it: it’s simply a way of earning a living. And it is prostitution which allows me to work in church!”
Only once in her two decades in the church has she felt isolated: She was horrified by the attitudes of church hierarchs about the Pussy Riot demonstrators. They should have been criticized but the campaign to punish them infuriated her, and for a time, she left the church. But in the end, her local priest talked her into coming back.
“Nina understands,” Volunkova says, “that if people find out about the other side of her life, the road to the church will be closed” and that, in the eyes of many, she will have consigned herself to hell. But Nina says that she doesn’t think God keeps track of sins that way. To think otherwise is to make God “too petty.”
The Takiedela journalist ends her article with a postscript. While she was preparing the story, Volunkova reports, “Nina met a man and a romance blossomed. For as long as they are together, Nina is working only in the church. [Indeed,] if everything works out, it isn’t excluded that she will not return to prostitution in the future.”